KIEV, Nov. 20 â€“ Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, a loyalist to President Viktor Yushchenko, on Monday was found guilty on two counts of corruption allegations in a controversial district court ruling in Kiev, lawyers said.
Lutsenko, who was alleged by investigators to illegally give ranks to police officers and to reward about 160 pistols to politicians, was ordered by the court to pay 340 hryvnias, or $67, fine. Lutsenko pledged to appeal the ruling.
The development is the latest in a growing confrontation between Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whose supporters are believed to have been pushing the investigation.
The Yanukovych supporters have been apparently looking for reasons to dismiss Lutsenko from the post of the minister in a wider attack against the Yushchenkoâ€™s pro-Western policy course.
Lutsenko, a popular politician, has been recently emerging as a potential leader of Our Ukraine, Yushchenkoâ€™s party, which would compete against Yanukovychâ€™s Regions Party in the event of an early general election.
â€śLet me put it straight forward: a dirty campaign has been commissioned to discredit the minister, an outstanding member of President Yushchenkoâ€™s Orange team,â€ť Viktor Baloha, Yushchenkoâ€™s chief of staff, said. â€śItâ€™s obvious that there is a political order to remove Lutsenko from the post by any means.â€ť
Baloha said Yushchenko continues to back Lutsenko.
Lutsenko was approved on the post in early August after a deal between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. The deal, among other things, allowed Yushchenko to nominate Yanukovych to the post of the prime minister.
The Regions Party-led pro-government coalition has been seeking to dismiss Lutsenko for the past two months. People said that Lutsenko has been refusing to appoint Regions Party loyalists to senior police posts in the countryâ€™s regions.
Most recently, the coalition, joined by a number of lawmakers from the group led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has been seeking to suspend Lutsenko for two months.
The investigation against Lutsenko was pushed by Renat Kuzmin, a recently appointed deputy prosecutor general, who is thought to be loyal to Yanukovych. Kuzmin was appointed to the post shortly after Yanukovych has been approved as the prime minister.
Yuriy Bergelson, Lutsenkoâ€™s lawyer, said the court had agreed there were no â€śselfish motivesâ€ť in Lutsenkoâ€™s actions. However, the ruling said the minister â€śhad committed corruption actions.â€ť
â€śThis is a political decision that had found the minister guilty,â€ť Bergelson said.
Inna Otrosh, a judge at the Pecherskiy district court in Kiev, approved the ruling. (tl/ez)